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'We know we’d look pretty stupid if we’re mentally off it'

Munster prop Stephen Archer knows there’s a big maul and scrum battle coming in Belfast.

Stephen Archer [left] celebrates Damian de Allende's try last weekend.
Stephen Archer [left] celebrates Damian de Allende's try last weekend.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

THE CHALLENGE FOR Munster now is to show that last weekend’s superb performance against Exeter was not simply a one-off.

Johann van Graan rightly felt it was among the province’s best displays during his tenure and the head coach could do with a repeat of it as Munster face into a massive United Rugby Championship clash with Ulster tomorrow night [KO 7.35pm, RTÉ].

Second-placed Ulster are three points ahead of Munster in the URC table so the reward for winning is obvious, but van Graan’s men also have to worry about what’s coming up behind them – namely three South African teams and Edinburgh, all of them desperate to secure a home quarter-final.

Even discounting the URC battle, this is a big inter-provincial game for Munster. The last time they won up in Belfast was back in 2016 when a late drop-goal from Rory Scannell gave them their third consecutive victory at Kingspan Stadium. Munster have lost on each of their four visits since, so this is a score that needs to be settled.

Factor it all in and Munster simply have to back last weekend up strongly.

“You’re playing Ulster,” says Munster tighthead prop Stephen Archer. “Ulster is such a big match, you immediately focus straight away.

“We know if we’re not right, we’d look pretty stupid if we’re mentally off it. I don’t think there will be an issue with really focusing there.

“I’ve lost more up there than I’ve won definitely, it’s a special place for rugby and I look forward to it. I’m sure there will be a big hostile atmosphere waiting for us on Friday night up there.”

Ulster face their own challenge in immediately bouncing back from the disappointment of being knocked out of the Champions Cup by Toulouse. Dan McFarland’s men will have plenty of regrets about errors they made over the two legs of that Round of 16 match-up.

rory-scannell-scores-a-drop-goal Rory Scannell kicked a late drop-goal the last time Munster won in Ulster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Archer is certain Ulster will be “well up for this one” and says the battle of the forward packs will be key.

“Going through everything, it will probably be decided up front,” says Archer.

“I know their head coach Dan McFarland quite well, he coached me in the Ireland U20s set-up a long time ago, and I know Dan puts on a lot of emphasis on the set-piece, particularly the scrum and the maul.

“They’ve been pretty effective in that area all season so we know we’ll have our hands full taking on that battle there.”

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While it might not be on the same scale as last weekend against Exeter in Thomond Park, winning up in Belfast would be another big step for this Munster team.

Archer hopes that there are plenty of days like last Saturday still ahead of them.

“A special day, a great one, Saturday afternoons are always when you traditionally want to play your knock-out rugby matches,” he says.

“The place was hopping, a great atmosphere, one of the best I can remember playing in in recent times anyway.

“And then the feeling in the dressing room, a mix of relief at getting through to the next round but also satisfaction because we can take a lot from the performance going forward.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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